I spoke to writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez via Twitter today and this is what he had to say about the response he has received for his new film, The Way:
"The film came from my heart and people have been writing letters and sending me emails about the profound impact it's had on their lives and their relationships with their parents and children. It's been lovely, but an unexpected reaction, to be sure."
It really is a film worth seeing. Here's my review…
WRITTEN BY: Emilio Estevez
DIRECTED BY: Emilio Estevez
STARRING: Martin Sheen, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningin, James Nesbitt
RATING: 4.5 stars
Beautiful. Inspirational. Heartbreaking. Comforting. Those are the words that come to mind when I want to describe The Way to someone. Many have walked the Camino de Santiago from France to Spain for various reasons and it means a lot to many people. So it's a wonder why it's taken so long to make a film about this inspiring journey. Although the walk is traditionally a religious one, it would be wrong to believe The Way is a religious film. It is more about family and finding balance in life. In fact, it actually has some similar themes and characters to The Wizard of Oz.
Adapted from Jack Hitt's non-fiction book Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim’s Route Into Spain, Emilio Estevez - who will always be remembered as a member of the 1980s Brat Pack, but who deserves to be remembered for so much more - has written and directed a beautiful tale.
Tom (Martin Sheen) is an American doctor who comes to St. Jean Pied de Port in France to collect the remains of his adult son Daniel (Sheen's real son, Emilio Estevez) who was killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way of Saint James. The father and son had a strained relationship and did not see eye to eye on how to live a full life. To try to understand his son better and fulfill his dream of walking the The Way, Tom decides to embark on the historical pilgrimage, carrying his son's ashes with him and spreading them along the route. Along the way, he meets other pilgrims including: a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen) trying to lose weight, though the reason becomes more complicated as the story plays out; a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) trying to quit smoking, but who also has a more complex secret past; and an Irishman (James Nesbitt) with writer's block, who is looking for inspiration.
The Way is a character-driven story and all the protagonists are well developed, even if there is a strong reliance on cultural stereotypes. The actors are given complex and interesting people to portray and they all do a great job. Sheen is especially moving in what is the first film he has carried in many years. His character sees his son at various times along the trek and while this could seem cliched, Sheen's performance makes it powerful and sad. It is quite obvious that the real life father and son love working together. Wageningin provides a lot of laughs but also a lot of heart, Nesbitt is outrageous and entertaining, while Unger has some great emotional scenes.
My only criticism of the film is that it's a little too long. Estevez insists on long, drawn out scenes, which can be useful but at other times unnecessary. There are several long takes of the group walking where nothing really happens, but obviously Estevez felt the need to include these scenes to show off the beauty of the Camino. There is also a long montage to an Alanis Morissette song, which drags a little. But again, it's clear that this was a passion project for Estevez and he really did pour his heart into it, so it's hard to criticise something so beloved by its creator.
The Way ends just as you expect it to, but it's not really the ending that matters. It's the journey that is most important. That is what the film teaches us. As Daniel says to his father: "You don't choose a life, Dad. You live one." Amen to that.